Ann Marie

Location: Massachusetts

Cancerversary: January 2023

Age at diagnosis: 62

Diagnosis: Squamous cell carcinoma

Stage of cancer: II

How my story begins: I had been postmenopausal for approximately 7 years and I missed my pelvic exams for 5 years. Yes, no Pap tests. It seemed once I was released from my job in 2017, at the age of 59, I wasn’t taking good care of myself because it was too expensive as no one would hire me.

In October 2021, I started vaginal bleeding. It went away so I figured I was okay. Fast forward to early June of 2022, I started bleeding again with copious amounts of blood. I checked with Dr. Google and one of the causes listed was cervical cancer. But I decided to ignore that line.

At this point, not only was I bleeding heavily, I couldn’t walk on my own. My wonderful husband got me a walker from our Senior Center. Well, it got to the point I couldn’t walk at all. We called 911 and I was admitted for DVT in my right leg and for the bleeding. Can’t forget that blood. A biopsy was done and I was told it was cervical cancer but couldn’t be staged until I had a PET scan. This would have to wait because after being discharged from the hospital, I went straight to rehab to learn to walk again. Two weeks later I was discharged to home!! Had a PET scan at the beginning of August.

Life before my diagnosis: I am the mother of three children, Nana to two handsome, smart, grandsons, a wife, and working full-time as an IT Consultant. I loved reading, shopping, the beach, and going to concerts with girlfriends. I love our family vacations to coastal Maine, Orlando, and Naples, FL. Life was good!!

How I felt after diagnosis: I was impatient when the gyno oncologist told me. I was pretty numb about it. Painkillers will do that to you. I asked for a hysterectomy but the tumor did not have clear margins.

Telling my family and friends: It took a while to tell people outside of my immediate family. Actually, my husband told my family. I told my friends once treatment was close to starting and my friends all had stuff to say about it and the treatments as well; including where I should go for treatments as we are fairly close to the Boston hospitals. However, I had already built a relationship with the team at my local cancer center.

My treatment: My treatment was pretty standard: 25 sessions of external radiation, 4 Cisplatin infusions, and 6 brachytherapy which was inpatient over 2 separate weeks. We had to borrow a car from a close friend because I couldn’t get myself in my husband’s pickup truck.

During my treatments, I was using a wheelchair as I had lost a good amount of weight and had mobility issues. My feet were swollen and I couldn’t put on any shoes, could only wear the beautiful, fashionable hospital socks. And a few times my oncologist sent me to the ER because of the risk of blood clots.

Luckily, I really didn’t have any side effects.

How I felt after treatment: I was on cloud nine and breathed a sigh of relief when it was over.

What was most difficult for me: - Telling my elderly Mother
- Lack of mobility; I had no freedom and no control over my life

What I did to help myself: I asked my medical team for in-home physical therapy. It helped me feel like I had some control after I gained strength in my legs.

My life after cancer: I still have mobility issues. Those first started when I had a deficiency of B-12 so I’m still relying on others to drive me.

Where I am today: I’m now much more active even with the mobility issues. I’m researching to find places to advocate. I’m active in Cervivor and I love this organization. I went to the Cervical Cancer Summit this past January and felt like I was where I belonged.

I often say that having this cancer was a gift. I know you’re probably thinking, "WHAT?" but I am retired and didn’t do much. Now I have a purpose! I feel empowered and want to be super empowered!!

What I want other women to know: Do not, I repeat do not skip your screenings!!! And understand the symptoms of cervical cancer. There’s nothing to be ashamed about if you are diagnosed. But please please continue to screen.

How I will try to help others: I speak to women about the importance of screening and the HPV vaccine when I have the chance. I will continue to do so for as long as I’m able.